Hard cider can be a sweet drink – in fact, most people think of it only that way.
But it also can be dry, as well as infused with unusual flavors such as mint and blackberry, fresh ginger and lemon, or sea salt.
Sly Clyde Ciderworks, a new family-run enterprise in Phoebus, embraces the unique. Using only Virginia-grown apples, the company has begun distributing its alcoholic ciders to restaurants and bars throughout Hampton Roads and hopes to open a tasting room on East Mellen Street this summer.
“Our ciders might taste nothing like what people have had before, because we’re looking to expand palates and imaginations,” says Head Cidermaker Brent Miles. “With dryer ciders, it’s easier to have one or two drinks and not feel like you’ve had a bunch of candy.”
Sly Clyde was co-founded by brothers Doug and Tim Smith, whose family has run various businesses in Hampton for more than 100 years. The tasting room, adjacent to a 2,000-square-foot production center, will be in the house where the Smiths’ grandfather and father grew up. The company is named for that grandfather, Clyde, a mortician who was always quick with a joke.
“It might have been easier to start a cidery near the orchard-rich Shenandoah Valley or the wealthy suburbs of Northern Virginia, but we wanted to serve our own backyard,” Doug Smith says. “Tim and I can’t remember not having sand on our feet, and we’re determined to make ciders that are unpretentious – just like the area.”
How it’s made
Since hard cider is fermented fruit juice, the production process is more similar to wine than beer. Sly Clyde gets all of its apples from an orchard in Tyro a small community at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The orchard presses several types of apples, including sweet-tart Pink Ladies and tart green Granny Smiths, into juice that arrives in Hampton in 4,000-gallon tankers.
The juice is split into four fermenters, where Miles adds compounds to kill off any wild yeast or bacteria and then introduces a high-quality yeast also used in wine-making. Over the next 10 to 14 days, that yeast’s job is to gobble up sugars and create two byproducts, alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Once that’s done, the liquid is cooled in order to drop yeast to the bottom of a tank, out of suspension; remaining yeast is filtered out on special pads to produce a clear cider for a carbonation tank. There, Miles also “back sweetens” the cider with a syrup made by boiling sucrose, which maintains more fermented flavor than the apple juices added by many other cider companies.
The final beverages, sold in bottles, cans or kegs, are gluten-free and have an alcohol content of about 6.7 percent, as compared to 10 to 15 percent for wines and 4 to 5 percent for popular lagers such as Budweiser, Miles says.
“Cider is a great alternative for people who don’t like beer or are gluten-intolerant, beyond mixed drinks or wine,” he notes.
Building a strong core
Virginia has emerged as a top cider market because of its many orchards, and Sly Clyde is its first coastal company. The Smith brothers hope their products will bring locals together for good times and laughs, which their grandfather would have loved.
“Phoebus is quickly becoming a really funky neighborhood,” Doug Smith says. “It’s a place where people can just be themselves and enjoy their neighbors.”
Miles, an award-winning cidermaker who previously helped run a company in Seattle, has produced three flavors so far: “Submersive”, with a clean, crisp apple taste; “Inkjet”, with blackberry and mint flavors; and “Cut & Run”, with lemon and ginger. He plans to release more on a regular basis, such as dry hopped or salty “Gose” styles.
Sly Clyde is currently selling ciders from its production center for brief periods on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, in addition to distributing to eateries. The tasting room likely will be open Tuesday through Sunday, featuring 10 taps and indoor and outdoor seating.
“There are a lot of really good ciders being made across the country,” Miles says. “We want to be part of that wave – but also nothing like anyone else.”